Popular Science Monthly/Volume 25/September 1884/Popular Miscellany

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POPULAR MISCELLANY.

Instruction of the Deaf.—Mr. Alexander Graham Bell addressed the Philosophical Society of Washington at one of its recent meetings on the subject of "Fallacies concerning the Deaf, and the Influence of those Fallacies in preventing the Amelioration of their Condition." He condemned the common phrases "deaf and dumb" and "deaf-mutes," as expressing what is not true; showing that those whom we term "deaf-mutes" have no other natural defect than that of hearing, and that they are dumb not on account of lack of hearing, but of lack of instruction. No one teaches them to speak. The gesture-language which such a child may use is developed by him at home, not because it is the only form of language natural to one in his condition, but because his parents and friends neglect to use the English language in his presence in a clearly visible form. The sign-language of our institutions is objected to as an artificial and conventional language, so far from being natural that it is not understood by deaf children on their entrance to an institution, and hearing persons can not be qualified to teach it till after many years. Practice in it hinders the acquisition of the English language; makes the deaf associate together in adult life, and avoid the society of hearing people; and thus causes the intermarriage of the deaf and the propagation of their physical defect. Dr. Bell holds that written English can be taught to deaf children so as to become their vernacular, and that, when they have been made familiar with it in either its written or spoken form, they can be taught to understand the utterances of their friends by watching the mouth. The requisites to the art of speech-reading are, an eye trained to distinguish quickly those movements of the vocal organs that are visible (independently of the meaning of the words uttered); a knowledge of these words that present the same appearance to the eye; and sufficient familiarity with the English language to enable the speech-reader to judge by context which word of a homophenous group (like-seeming) is the word intended by the speaker. We should, therefore, teach deaf children to think in English, by using English in their presence in a clearly visible form; teach them to speak, by giving them instruction in the use of their vocal organs; teach them the use of the eye as a substitute for the ear in understanding the utterances of their friends; give them instruction in the ordinary branches of education by means of the English language; and banish the sign-language from our schools.

 

Bogus American Antiques.—According to the sixteenth report of the Peabody Museum, the manufacture of false American antiquities is becoming an industry of our country. The museum has been offered an "ancient" child carved from stone, duly incrusted with cement, said to have been dug up in Arkansas, the workmanship of which, and the presence of undecayed grass-leaves and yellow printing-paper in the incrustation, showed it to be a near relative of the Cardiff giant. This, however, is only one of many fraudulent specimens that are on sale. Pipes, tubes, dishes, and ceremonial and other objects, are regularly manufactured in Philadelphia, and have found their way into American and foreign collections as genuine antiquities, dug up in such or such a locality. A manufacturer in Indiana gives his attention chiefly to "mound-builders' pipes," which are carved in stone and offered in a systematic manner to collectors. In Ohio a large business has been done in the so-called gorgets, cut from slate, and in hematite celts. In Southern Illinois, a few years ago, specimens of pottery were made till the demand fell off, so that one manufacturer acknowledged that the business no longer paid. On the whole, says Professor Putnam, "the demand for 'antiquities' is considerable in this country, and we are not behind the Old World in keeping up the supply."

 

The Nettle as an Economical Plant.—The nettle, which is now only rarely cultivated, was held in high honor as a useful plant not more than two hundred years ago. In a medical treatise of the fifteenth century, several pages are occupied with the description of its healing properties. It is said to have been turned to account for food during the Irish famine. In Russia, Sweden, and Holland, it is mowed and made into fodder for cows, with profit in the increase in quantity and improvement in quality of the milk, although the animals will not venture to eat it while it is green. Cords are made from it in Kamchatka, paper in France, and grass-cloth in China and India. It has been made into linen in various countries, a fact of which the German name for muslin, Nesseluch (nettle-cloth), is a standing testimony. When cotton came into general use for textile fabrics the nettle went out, and was nearly forgotten till attention was called to it anew by Professor Reuleaux after our Centennial Exhibition. Frau Rössler-Lade took the matter up and showed how easily the plant could be cultivated and how well adapted it was to spinning. Numerous persons have since engaged in the cultivation of the native species, and of the Chinese nettle, which is considered a little superior, in Germany and other countries. A company has been formed in Holland for the cultivation of the nettle in Java, with a capital of about three million guilders.

 

Correlations of the Seasons.—The universal mildness of the past winter in Northern Europe has caused attention to be directed to the inquiry whether there is a correlation in character between that and other seasons of the year. Mild winters are by no means rare in that quarter of the world: several may be cited in the last half-century, particularly that of 1842-'43, when the fields around St. Petersburg were bright with flowers in December and violets gathered in the woods were sold in Stockholm in January. Herr G. Hellman has made a special study of the mild winters in Berlin since 1720. He counts thirty-four seasons since 1755 when December and January were warmer than the mean. The warm seasons come at irregular intervals, and do not suggest any law; seventeen of them came between 1755 and 1821, and seventeen between 1821 and 1884. In seventy-six per cent of these exceptional winters, the month of November also was warmer than usual. Herr Hellman asserts that the chances are eighty-one to nineteen that a warm February will follow a warm December and January, and fifty-seven to forty-three that the same will be the case with March. Thus, the chance is that a winter that begins by putting on a mild face in November will preserve the same aspect all through. In regard to the seasons following these exceptional winters, Herr Hellman finds that a moderately mild winter is more frequently followed by a cold spring, and a very warm winter more usually by a warm spring; and, in general, that the warmer the winter the warmer will be the ensuing spring. These conclusions contradict popular notions.

 

Physiographic Conditions of Minnesota.—In a lecture on the "Physiographic Conditions of Minnesota Agriculture," recently delivered before the State Horticultural Society, Professor C. W. Hall claimed for that State a nearly central position on the North American Continent, as fixed by lines drawn from Eastport to Astoria, and from Behring Strait to the Isthmus of Panama. Of its area, 83,365 square miles, 78,600 square miles are land, while the rest of the territory is occupied by some 8,000 or 10,000 lakes; 48,000 square miles are forest, and 31,000 prairie. Not quite 40,000 square miles are drained into Hudson Bay, and 7,689 square miles into the St. Lawrence, while the rest of the area of the State sheds its water into the Mississippi. The height of the land ranges from 602 feet above the sea, at Lake Superior, to 2,400 feet in the highest part of the Mesabi, or dividing range between the water-sheds, and averages, for the whole State, perhaps about 1,200 feet. Much of Minnesota is covered by the drift, the various constituents of which—granites and schists, sandstones, clays, and limestones—have been ground up and mingled in utter confusion, so that the land is adapted to the greatest diversity of crops. The average annual rainfall is about 28-27 inches, or about three quarters of an inch less than the average for the whole United States, excluding Alaska. The average January temperature is nearly 12° Fahr., while the July average is nearly 71° Fahr; and the difference between the warmest summer day and the coldest winter night is about 120° Fahr. A reduction in the average temperature is observed of one degree for every 350 feet of additional elevation. As in Nebraska, a gradual increase in rainfall appears to be taking place as more of the prairie-soil is brought under the plow; and the streams are becoming larger, and springs are flowing where once water could not be obtained.

 

An Absolute Unit of Light.—An absolute standard for the measurement of the intensity of light has long been wanting. All the standards heretofore proposed are imperfect, because in none of them has it been possible to secure complete uniformity in intensity and color. A satisfactory standard should be identical at all times and in all places; should be of convenient size; and should be white enough to be comparable with all modern lights in every region of the spectrum. These conditions appear to be fulfilled in the standard proposed by M. Violle in 1881, which, after some improvement in processes, has been definitely adopted by the International Congress of Electricians. It is the light emitted by a square centimetre of melted platinum at the temperature of solidification (1,775° C, or 3,227° Fahr.). This light nearly resembles the incandescent electric light, and is constant during the whole process of solidification. Its value, expressed in one of the old standards, is 1 carcel 1/2·08 of the Violle unit.

 

Birds' Tastes for Color and Music.—Mr. E. E. Fish has published in the "Bulletin" of the Buffalo Naturalists' Field-Club a paper on "The Intelligence of Birds," in which he ascribes to birds a keen perception of color and capacity to be gratified by artistic arrangements of colors, and a strong susceptibility to musical melodies. Evidence of the enjoyment of color is given by the tasteful combinations with which many birds adorn their nests, and by instances in which their choice of companions, food-fruits, etc., is guided by color. Many of the feathered tribes also "manifest real pleasure at the execution of simple harmonies. They enjoy the notes of musical instruments, but more especially their own songs and those of one another. . . . Our unmusical English sparrow enjoys the songs of other birds; on different occasions I have seen several of them gather about a robin as he caroled a pleasant song; when they came too near or in too large numbers, he would dart at them and drive them out of the tree, but when he commenced again to sing some of them were quite sure to return. A friend sends me an account of a bobolink, that placed in a cage with some canaries exhibited great delight at their songs. He did not sing himself, but with a peculiar cluck could always set the canaries singing. After a while he began to learn their songs, note by note, and in the course of a few weeks mastered the entire song." The goose is also fond of music, "and a lively air on a violin will sometimes set a whole flock wild with delight. On one occasion, at a country wedding, I was witness of a curious performance by one of these animals. After dinner a lady entertained the guests assembled on the lawn with music from an accordeon. A flock of geese were feeding in the road just below the house, and with outstretched necks answered back loud notes of satisfaction. Soon a white gander commenced dancing a lively jig, keeping good time to the music. For several minutes he kept up the performance, to the great delight of the company. The experiment was tried several times for a week or more, and the tones of the accordeon never failed to set the old gander into a lively dance."

 

Milne-Edwards's Marine Investigations.—M. Alphonse Milne-Edwards has expressed himself well satisfied with the results of his deep-sea expedition in the Talisman. He claims to have corrected some of the soundings as given in a recent German atlas, and to have traced a different relief from the one indicated in it for the ocean-bed. He found the bottom of the Sargasso Sea—six thousand metres deep—to be of a volcanic character. Some of the lavas and scoriæ in the collection the expedition has brought home seem to be of relatively recent origin, and to offer an explanation of the poverty of the flora of the region in which they were found. In a letter to the French Geographical Society, M. Milne-Edwards speaks of an immense volcanic bed running parallel with the Andes, of which the Cape Verde Islands, the Canaries, and the Azores form the culminating peaks, and which, he conjectures, may extend to Iceland.

 

The Glacial Dam and Lake of the Ohio River.—Professor G. Frederick Wright, in tracing the boundary-line of the glaciated area through Ohio, found that it crossed over into Kentucky in the neighborhood of Cincinnati, returning, however, to the north side of the Ohio River at a few miles farther down. Examining the ground more closely, he found that the entire valley of the river, for a distance of fifty miles in this region, had been, for a short time during the glacial period, filled with glacial matter which formed a dam at least five hundred and fifty feet high. The effect of this must necessarily have been to make a narrow lake corresponding in depth with the ice-barrier, and extending far up the Ohio and its tributaries, including the Licking in Kentucky, the Kanawha in West Virginia, and the Alleghany and Monongahela in Pennsylvania, and covering the present site of Pittsburg to a depth of about three hundred feet. Evidence of the former existence of such a lake, in the shape of terraces marking its margin, has been found along these rivers, in one case independently of Professor Wright's investigations. Professor J. C. White, of Morgantown, West Virginia, and of the Pennsylvania Geological Survey, says that it is exactly what is needed to explain the terraces along the Monongahela, which extend from Pittsburg as far south at least as Fairmount, West Virginia, one hundred and thirty miles, and "suddenly disappear at an elevation of one thousand and fifty or one thousand and seventy-five feet above tide, or about two hundred and seventy-five feet above the river." Professor Lesley has observed terraces along the Alleghany and its tributaries, at the same absolute level. Along the Great Kanawha, water-worn bowlder deposits disappear at an elevation of from two hundred to three hundred feet above the present level of the stream. A deserted river-channel, now followed by the Chesapeake and Ohio Railroad, and more than two hundred feet higher than the present river, extends from fifteen miles below Charleston to Huntington, at the mouth of the Guyandotte, through which the Kanawha once flowed to the Ohio. A similar deserted channel, of a similar height, extends from near the mouth of the Big Sandy to Greenupsburg, Kentucky. Mr. G. H, Squier reports evidences of a terrace on the Licking River, near Owingsville, Bath County, Kentucky; and the fact had so impressed him that, before knowing of Professor Wright's discoveries, he had come to the conclusion that some such barrier as is supposed must have existed.

 

Value of Brain-Weighings.—Recent statements about the weight of Turgenief's brain, which was extraordinarily heavy, have provoked questions as to the value of such data. Mr. Nikiforoff has published an article on the subject. The suggestion is raised that the significance of the weight of the brain is not absolute, but should depend upon the proportion the brain bears to the dimensions of the whole body, and to the weight of the individual. Byron died at the age of thirty-six, and the great geometrician Gauss at seventy-eight years of age. The brains of the two should, therefore not be compared. It is equally important to know what was the cause of death, for protracted disease and old age exhaust the brain. To define the real degree of development of the brain, it is, therefore, necessary to have a knowledge of the condition of the whole body, and, as this is usually lacking, the mere record of weights possesses little significance.

 

The Boring Power of Mollusks.—Professor F. H. Storer suggests, in a note to Professor Dana, that the shell and rock-boring mollusks owe their excavating power in large part to chemical actions which they induce. Having observed how readily saline compounds are decomposed by way of osmose when put in contact with moistened membranes, and particularly with living membranes, like those in the rootlets of plants, and how plant-roots actually decompose mineral substances, he conceives it probable that mollusks also do their boring by means of chlorhydric acid formed through the decomposition of sea-salt by certain of their tissues. The boring has usually been regarded as a kind of drilling performed by the tooth-like processes attached to the proboscis of the mollusk. Professor Storer does not deny that the teeth may aid in the process of removing the softened shell, but believes that an acid solvent acting upon the shell is primarily operative; and he proposes the question as a fit subject of experimentation.

 

Sir Bartle Frere.—Sir Henry Bartle Edward Frere, Bart., a distinguished officer in the English colonial service, and a promoter of geographical exploration, died at his home in Wimbledon, England, on the 29th of May. He was born in 1815, and spent his earlier years in the Indian civil service, where he became Governor of Bombay, and member of the Council of India. In 1872 he was deputed on a special mission, connected with the suppression of the slave-trade, to Zanzibar, where he was able to render efficient aid to African exploration. His interest in this work began in 1865, when he helped to raise means to start Livingstone on his last expedition, and gave him an official letter to the Sultan of Zanzibar. At Zanzibar, in 18'72, he superintended the departure of Cameron's expedition for the relief of Livingstone. He was an active member of the Royal Geographical Society from 1867, and furnished many papers to it, and was President of the Geographical Section of the British Association in 1869. In 1877 he was appointed Governor of the Cape of Good Hope, and High Commissioner for South Africa. He was prominent in the transactions that led to the war with the Zooloos. He was, says Sir Richard Temple, "a born geographer."

 

The Fleuss Breathing Apparatus and Safety-Lamp.—The Fleuss apparatus for breathing under water and in irrespirable gases, which was described in Vol. XVI, page 717 (March, 1880), of "The Popular Science Monthly," has acquired a considerable use and has proved efficient in practice. Mr. Fleuss has also, in conjunction with Mr. Foster, produced a safety mining-lamp which depends for its vitality on principles similar to those of the breathing apparatus, and is equally useful and safe under water and in the most dangerous gases. It is essentially a lime-light, ignited by the burning of methylated spirits instead of hydrogen gas, and securely guarded against contact with the outer air. It will burn for four hours equally well under water, in carbonic acid, or in fire-damp, and it can not get hotter than boiling water. Its usefulness, says "Iron," "we have seen demonstrated by a diver at the Fisheries Exhibition, who, equipped with the breathing apparatus, and having a Fleuss lamp, remained for long periods under water, both man and lamp being wholly cut off from the outer atmosphere during the periods of immersion. In like manner we have seen the respiratory apparatus put to the test by a man equipped with it remaining for some time in an air-tight iron chamber filled with dense smoke and noxious vapors. But above and beyond this is the experience which has been gained from its use in actual practice, notably in the case of the flooding of the Severn Tunnel, as regards subaqueous work, and in the cases of the Seahara and Killingworth collieries with respect to coal-mine accidents." In the case of the explosion at the Lycet collieries, in which several lives were lost, an early exploration, which in ordinary circumstances would have been impossible, was safely effected by means of the Fleuss apparatus.

 

The Army-Worm.—Several caterpillars have been popularly but inaccurately called the army-worm; but, according to the recently published pamphlet by Professor Riley on the subject, the real worm which is so destructive to growing grass and grain is the Leucania unipunctata, a species that has a very wide range on this Continent. The worm is the larva of a moth about an inch and a half in wing-expansion, and of a reddish-gray color, which lays its eggs in wild or cultivated grass, or in grain, along the inner base of the terminal blades, where they are yet doubled, or between the stalk and its surrounding sheath, or even in the cut straw of old stacks, or in corn-stalks. The larvæ feed for a time after hatching in the fold of the leaf, which they so resemble in color as usually to escape observation. They are stationary in habit so long as they have sufficient feed, but take up the march when their pasture is exhausted; and in those seasons when they have been multiplied to excess they constitute a veritable army marching in solid rank. Their occasional sudden appearance in vast numbers over large stretches of territory is one of the phenomenal features of their life; but it is not so wonderful a fact, after all. They are nearly always with us in greater or less numbers, and if the season is a dry one they multiply prodigiously. An immense crop of moths is accordingly produced, and then, each one of them laying seven or eight hundred eggs, stock the fields and pastures in profusion, depositing the eggs for the immense host which is to appear in the following year. In confirmation of this view, examinations of the weather records show that the years preceding army-worm years have been universally characterized by drought. Three broods of them may be produced in a year. Their natural enemies are not less than fourteen species of birds, a metapodious bug, and numerous parasites. The usually applied remedies look to the wholesale destruction of the worms or the eggs. Among them are burning the old grass, preferably as late as possible in the spring; digging a ditch to serve as a trap into which they will fall on their march, after which they may be destroyed in various ways—mashing them in the field with heavy rollers, and dragging a rope across the field to crush them. Thin tillage is also a preventive, by causing the worms to be exposed to the sun.

 

What destroyed Casamicciola?—Professor Palmieri, of the Mount Vesuvius Observatory, believes that the destruction of Casamicciola, in Ischia, was not the immediate effect of the earthquake, but was caused by a caving in of the ground under the city, which might, perhaps, have been precipitated by an earthquake-shock. The trachytic rocks on which the town is built rest upon a bed of clay, in which extensive galleries have been dug in the course of centuries, while the clay has been mined for industrial purposes. As early as 1837, an engineer, Alessandro Giordano, called attention to the danger of extending these excavations farther toward the city. Add to this the action of the carbonic waters of the thermal springs in hollowing out caverns in the trachytic rocks, and we have probable a condition of the subsoil and underlying formations extremely perilous to the stability of the foundations of the town, and one under which Just such a disaster as has overtaken it might be readily conceivable.

M. Wroblewski has been investigating the boiling-points of air, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbonic oxide, at the ordinary pressure of the atmosphere, and fixes them as follows: Oxygen, 299° Fahr.; atmospheric air, 314°; nitrogen, 315·5°; carbonic oxide, 314∙4°. Atmospheric air seems destined to be the refrigerant of the future, for it is already at hand, and will produce a degree of cold that is only insignificantly exceeded by that induced by any other substance. It must, of course, be first compressed and liquefied; then, when it is to be used, it will be let loose to freeze by its evaporation, as is now done with other refrigerants operating in a similar way.

M. Gustave Hermite describes a method of taking phosphorescent photographs, which he has found to be practicable with any phosphorescent substance, but for which he prefers sulphuret of calcium, a material from which a luminous paint is made. This substance is very sensitive to light, and assumes a phosphorescence the intensity of which is proportioned to the intensity of the light to which it is exposed, rather than to the length of the exposure. A glass plate is painted with it, and is exposed in a bright light in the face of the object of which a picture is desired. The picture appears very distinct when the plate is taken into the dark. It may be revived afterward by breathing upon the plate, and then passing a hot flat-iron over it. Sulphuret of calcium becomes phosphorescent under the influence of heat (300° C.) as well as of light.

M. E. L. Trouvelot has concluded, from observations on the planet Saturn for several years, that his rings are not fixed but very variable; and that the hypothesis that they are composed of multitudes of corpuscles or minute satellites, revolving in independent orbits, is very probable, and affords the best explanation of the phenomena.